Trends for 2023: 3D printing with PEEK Polymers

Industries will continue to choose PEEK polymers as metal substitute. 

The demand for polyether ether ketone (PEEK) is expected to rise significantly in the coming years. The global PEEK market was valued at around $679 million in 2021 and is projected to reach $1.58 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate of 7.3% during the forecast period of 2022-2030.

PEEK is a semi-crystalline thermoplastic polymer that is known for its high-temperature resistance, hydrolysis resistance, self-lubrication, and strong mechanical properties. It is also non-toxic and produces little smoke or harmful gases when exposed to fire. PEEK’s many useful properties have made it popular in a range of industries, including semi-conductor, medical and automotive.

The medical industry, in particular, is expected to drive growth in the PEEK market as researchers and companies continue to explore new clinical applications for the material.

Automotive, aerospace and medical industry will lead the growth

There is a good reason why the aerospace, automotive and medical industry will be among the first industries to fully adopt the 3D printing technology with PEEK for producing parts. These industries often require parts that are strong, lightweight, and able to withstand high temperatures and harsh environments.

In the recent years for example, the implementation of stricter emission laws has led to increased demand for materials that can help reduce the weight of vehicles. Engineering polymers can meet this need, but PEEK is particularly useful because of its strong heat resistance. This allows manufacturers to make smaller, more compact components for under-the-hood applications. As a result, PEEK is becoming increasingly popular in the automotive industry.

In addition to the above mentioned industries, there are certainly opportunities for 3D printing with PEEK in the oil and gas, electronics, and high-tech sectors. At Bond3D we see a substantial growth in the electronics industry and they choose to print with PEEK polymers for the following reasons:

  1. PEEK has excellent mechanical properties, including high strength and stiffness, as well as good resistance to wear and creep. This makes it ideal for use in structural parts that will be subjected to high loads or stresses.
  2. PEEK has a low coefficient of thermal expansion, meaning it does not expand or contract significantly when exposed to temperature changes. This makes it suitable for use in components that must maintain a precise fit or alignment over a wide temperature range.
  3. PEEK is resistant to a wide range of chemicals, including acids, bases, and hydrocarbons. This makes it suitable for use in environments where it may be exposed to corrosive fluids or vapors.

Also in the medical industry PEEK will be used more often because it is a biocompatible material is well-suited for a variety of medical applications. It is strong, durable, and has excellent chemical resistance.

PEEK will continue to substitute metal parts

The substitution of metals with PEEK has been a major growth driver for the industry. PEEK is replacing a variety of metals, including aluminum, carbon steel, bronze, stainless steel, brass, titanium, and magnesium.

There is virtually no industry that does not strive for reductions in weight of the final product. In some cases, higher weight implies higher costs of the product itself; in some, weight reduction leads to improved efficiencies of the equipment.

Advancements in polymer science over the past few years have allowed us to develop technology that come close to mimicking the strengths offered by metals. While it is fair to say that on average, the strength of a polymer lags against the toughness of metals, there are several applications where the polymer offers more than adequate strength, whilst bringing a host of other benefits that make it a more viable option.

This trend is mainly driven by new regulations. For example: automakers are required to improve the fuel economy of their vehicles, reduce maintenance requirements, and lower noise levels. PEEK is seen as a superior alternative to metals in these applications because it is more effective at reducing emissions and improving fuel economy. It also offers better performance characteristics than metals and other polymers, and is resistant to a wide range of chemicals that are commonly used in aircraft, such as jet fuel, de-icing solutions, fire-extinguishing compounds, hydraulic fluids, and cleaning agents.

Lowering the costs of 3D Printed PEEK parts

3D Printing PEEK products required a significant initial investment because it is more complex than the production of other types of polymers. Producing PEEK products that can withstand high temperatures requires a high level of technical expertise. This, along with other factors, makes the cost of producing PEEK relatively high but are worth the investment on the long term. But for many critical applications, they are worth the expenditure. When considered as a genuine alternative to 3D printed metal — as in many cases they are — they can provide excellent value.

But due to changes in the design and production process it will be more easy for mid-sized and small market players to enter the PEEK industry, which will grow and expand the market.

The future of 3D Printing with PEEK polymers

As moderately simple plastics like PLA and ABS continue to dominate the polymer market, there is a growing demand for durable, functional materials that can resist the harsh environment and high temperature. Due to this, the 3D printing industry is establishing high-performance thermoplastic like PEEK.

The advancement of this high-performance thermoplastic has been significant for the industrialization of Additive Manufacturing (AM). This will support the evolution from prototyping to advanced applications in critical industries like aerospace and medical and are anticipated to increase demand across a range of industries in the upcoming years. As a result, PEEK will have a huge demand in future years.

Ready to start printing with PEEK polymers?

Curious to know more about how PEEK polymers can be a value in your industry? Contact our team!

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